Monday, December 2, 2013

Chronicling the Dead Keeps my Mind off the Living

I've been doing all things grave-y lately.  A lot of family history stuff, including scanning old family photos and letters.  I've probably said this before, but I'm going to say it again:

Mark your photographs!

Seriously!  We have stacks of unmarked photos that we'll NEVER really know who they were. We've had a little luck comparing them with records on the LDS Family Search site, but most of them are of folks whose identities are lost.  DON'T do that!

Here are a couple examples:

Zero clue, probably taken in Camden or Philly, 1930s, maybe?

Zero clue--we all agree the lady down front right looks like she could be related.

And my husband's side of the family is no better.  Most of them are more easily traced than mine, but they, too, have a crappy habit of not marking photos:

Mormon Missionaries, one of whom is a relative 
So we know where it was taken, but not who it is.

And then there's this amazing gem:

An actual tintype.  It's not in good shape, I had to "fix" her cheek in Photoshop because a chunk is missing.



In addition to the family history thing, we've been visiting local cemeteries.  Some of the stones, especially the hand carved ones, are really wrenching.  All backward letters and misspelled words and heart.  So much heart.

Plus, I've been cataloguing some English and Welsh cemeteries as I come across the headstones online.  I started in Herefordshire, hoping to come across something related to my husband's family, but got caught up in the history of it.  I now know that the Caroline Spooner was the largest Barque ever built at Aberystwyth.  That's "A-bur-uh-stew-uth."

If only someone would pay me to archive stuff like this.  Because I'm good at it, I love doing it (I do it for FUN), and it's important.  Except most folks don't think it is important.



Speaking of cemeteries, headstones, and the like, I've been noticing how, even in death, women are marginalized, they're minimized, they're lost to history because, so often, their "maiden" names are not included on the headstone.  So Margaret Griffiths gets married, becomes Margaret Davies, but her headstone only reads "Margaret Davies," or worse "Margaret, wife of Hugh Davies."  

Like she's just an aside, an afterthought.  As though she never was anything but an extension of the man she married.  Descendants run up against brick walls when trying to trace the women in their family's history.  Maybe, if they're lucky, they'll find a church record or census that relays the woman's birth name, but, often as not, that doesn't happen. 

That's got me thinking just how incredibly sexist the whole idea of "maiden name" versus "married name" really is.  Like a woman belongs to her father until some man takes her, renames her, and turns her from "maiden" to "matron." The historic meaning of "maiden" makes this glaringly obvious.  


A big "I wouldn't piss on your face if your teeth were on fire" shout out to those teabaggers on Capital Hill who have, once again, decided to slash my husband's transit benefit.  That's another 50+ bucks a month gone, though they've INCREASED the parking benefit (which we don't receive).  In other words, they're doing what they can to reduce ridership on mass transit so they can then claim that mass transit, which isn't supposed to "turn a profit" anyway, isn't turning a profit.  So they can slash mass transit funding.  So their buddies in the oil industry make more money off the increased number of cars on the road in an already devastatingly traffic congested area.

And they think we don't know what they're up to.  These are the same guys who squeal about some dead birds at wind farms, while protesting the fines levied against British Petroleum for oil spills that killed millions of birds and fish.

Luckily, they're going to give my husband his first raise in four years.


Mmm hmm.  You can torch your damned teeth any ol' time, guys.


Still wandering around with a temporary crown in my face.  Which has the other side, where I have no molars, raw and sad because that's where I've been chewing.  Scared to death that, despite all the assurances that we have enough credit with the dentist's office to more than cover this, I'm going to go in on the ninth and be told I owe.

We have no money.  Seriously, none.  Which is why I was so careful to confirm, repeatedly, that this would carry no out-of-pocket cost to us.  But I'm scared.  Scared I'm going to utterly explode on them if they try to hold my permanent crown hostage in return for payment they said wouldn't be due.


I'm going to close with a picture of a tree.  Because we live in a place with great trees.  Trees that dwarf and put to shame those sad, scraggly things in Utah.


  1. I respect peoples interest in knowing the names of the dead, but I will never quite understand why it is important.

    for medical reasons? If a horrible genetic disease is going to be passed on down thru generations, the decendents will either get it or not. Knowing, rarely makes a difference.

    for inhearatance? I someone several generations back was very rich, it is still unlikely to discover some long hidden treasure that one might be elegible for.

    Old cementaries, are just land. The dead bodies are long gone.

    I think the dead are dead, and although there is a very good reason to bury. them, knowing who was burried where long ago is just not important.

    My grandson is currently doing a research project on his family tree. On one side he can trace back to the 1600's, on the other only to the 1800's. the main thing is they are all dead.

    THe positive I see in the project is the interaction between the living members of the family. He is talking with his parents and his granparents about something. He is learning to do research and how to put together a comprehensive report from several sources.

    Now if he could learn more about what these people thought or their reasons for immigration from their homelands, that would be interesting. What their names were is not.

    To me geneology can be a fun hobby, but is as relevant as who begot who in the bible. Who cares?

    PLEASE do not take this as a "dis". Everyone has their own interests, I just try to understand them.

  2. For me, it's exactly because they're dead that it has some value--they're gone, and if no one chronicles their lives, then they're lost to time. I like the idea of making some note of their lives. Plus, it's history, plain and simple--what I have learned just in the past week about everything from the Somme in WWI to U-boats torpedoing steamers, the harsh life of Welsh Sailors to the naming conventions for inheriting nobles could fill a book, and I've never been a slouch when it comes to history. When I transcribe a headstone that tells me a woman lost her husband and eldest son in one shipwreck, her next son in another shipwreck, yet another son in a shipwreck, and the last in a mine disaster, I get insight into not just that woman's existence, but the plight of folks in that place and time in general. And the inscriptions sometimes do tell me a lot about how the survivors, many of whom eventually wind up on the same stone, thought and felt.

    You know me, I'm not looking for any grand religious purpose here, there's no tracing back to Charlemagne (or Adam and Eve, LOL!), but seeing where my family came from helps me to see where I came from, and, more importantly to me, it helps me to make those people remembered in some small way. To me, that's really all we leave behind is a memory of us.


  3. I like knowing where I came from, and I like old photos of relatives. It's interesting to see that my one crooked tooth in the front has been recurring at least as far back as my great-grandfather, as well as my protruding lower lip. He had that same lip! :) And in America, so many people know that they are "white" or "latino" or "black" but after doing a bit of research, we can actually apply some culture and tradition to it. I'm German, and Irish, and my hispanic half-siblings are Mexican and Cherokee, as well as Irish. It gives me something to be proud of besides my race. Race means nothing, culture means a lot.
    I recently stumbled across some old family photos going back to the 1870s, which would have been lost to time if they hadn't been labeled. A woman bought them at an antique shop in a state that none of my family lives, and since they were marked, she posted them online and I was able to find them. Amazing! On the other hand, I have pictures of my Ex's relatives from 1915 that were only labeled with the year. Why do I have them? Because his family tossed them since they didn't know who they were.